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Nikita Lalwani – Gifted

January 21, 2008

10. Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (2007)

Length: 288 pages

Genre: Literary Fiction

Started: 17 January 2008
Finished: 21 January 2008

Summary: Rumi Vasi is the daughter of Indian immigrants living in Wales, and from a young age she has an extraordinary talent for math. Her father drives her to accomplish all she can, locking her into a rigid schedule of study, study, and more study, and eliminating social interaction and “outside influences” from her life. Her goal is to take her O-levels in maths as soon as possible, and to begin study at Oxford University. However, achieving this goal comes as a cost to her childhood, social life, and mental well-being.

Review: As a former “gifted and talented” child myself (at math, too, although not at anywhere close to Rumi’s level), this book struck a major chord with me. Thankfully, I did not have nearly the same pressure from my parents to achieve, but I immediately recognized the pain of being the outcast at school, looking in on normal social interactions, the drive to succeed and the sheer terror when you’re not sure you can, the retreating into the safe world of math and numbers as a way to quantify and thereby make sense of your world. However, while Rumi was a relatable narrator, I didn’t find her particularly sympathetic – more so than either of her parents, of course, but her passive-aggressive behavior throughout most of the book still annoyed me.

I wasn’t blown away by the writing, either – in general it flowed too well but tended to feel a little forced, as though it was trying too hard to be capital-W Writing. The plot structure was a little off-putting as well… it tended to jump from scene to scene or shift narrators within a scene without any warning or continuity. The book also felt like it ended about halfway before it should – only in the last chapter and epilogue does something real finally happen, really moving the story forward, and things start getting interesting… and then the book is over, with no one really having changed or grown. Overall, it was a pretty realistic look at the darker side of what parents can do to children, even with their best interests at heart, but I feel like it spent too long wallowing in that darkness without ever going anywhere worthwhile. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Has its fair share of well-captured moments, but unlikeable characters and a strangely-paced plot means I wouldn’t be rushing to add this to your TBR list.

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Vocab:

  • p. 37: “Rumi knows the words, having heard Jaggi recite them and having read them in her own edition: ‘Some experts on calculating prodigies refuse to give credence to the above – largely on the grounds that it is so vastly superior to the calculating feats of any other invigilated prodigy.’” – to keep watch over students at an examination.
  • p. 148: “She looked back at the louche gathering from her class, concentrated by the wall, and saw Bridgeman.” – dubious; shady; disreputable.
  • p. 222: “‘But I love…’ said Rumi, realizing how naff it sounded before she said it again, ‘I love that film.’” – unstylish; lacking taste; inferior.
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